when I quit smoking

November 15, 2012

… the first time? This time? All the times in-between?

I’ve quit so many times I can’t remember what I had on when except for a look of smug righteousness. I know I was wearing that every time.

Followed, of course, by a look of shame when I lit up again within the week.

I have a clear memory of the second time I quit (the first time, I had the flu, so it doesn’t count). This second instance, I was 23 and my best friend was getting married. Her fiancé was a fabulously nice guy, a med student who doted on her. It looked great on paper but she had one reservation: he was chubby. Not big-boned, not baby-fat cuddly, just chubby. He ate too much. So I made a bet with him. If he went on a diet, I’d quit smoking. That way, when the wedding rolled round he’d be slim and I’d be healthy. Win-win.

This joint resolution lasted about as long as the marriage, which was not very long.

What I wore at the wedding was a gauzy bridesmaid dress and a big hat to hide very short hair. The short hair is why I started smoking again, and I dare anyone not to sympathize. My hairdresser had got it into his head that the gamine look would suit me. It was the kind of salon where they shoved a glass of wine into your hand the moment you walked in, and my hairdresser was cute and straight and I was a little tipsy, so when he said, ‘early Audrey Hepburn,’ I let him chop off all my curls.  As soon as I saw myself in the mirror, looking like one of those collaborators who had her head shaved because she slept with a Nazi, I started crying and didn’t stop until I bought a pack of Camels and lit up outside the salon.

That was my first justification. I’ve got hundreds. The only justification I’ve ever had for not smoking, the only one that endured for any length of time, was pregnancy. I didn’t smoke the whole time I carried my daughter nor while I was nursing. It didn’t even occur to me until the night my husband got sick. I was in my second trimester and he suddenly came down with an infection. His temperature spiked to 105 degrees and in the three hours before the antibiotics took hold I found myself thinking: He’s going to die on me. He’s going to die, leaving me alone and pregnant and I can’t even smoke.

I can construct all sorts of amusing justifications for maintaining what we all know is a nasty and expensive habit, but the real reason is actually rather stark, less an excuse than a bald statement of fact: I get bored.

Not smoking is boring.

Every time I quit and am clear of the cravings, I start missing the scheduled high, the little landmarks that smoking provides.  No matter how long I stay off it, I’m always aware something is gone, something powerful that used to inform my life. My mother told me that long after she quit, two decades on, she still dreamt about it. Fast asleep, she’d see herself fire up a True, take a drag on that trifurcated plastic filter and suck it in.

“How was it?” I said.


She died last spring, my mother, congestive heart failure brought on, in part, by years of smoking.

So there you go.

Yesterday I went to a place called Advance Performance and got myself fitted out for a pair of high-tech running shoes. The way it works, you try on lots of shoes and get filmed running on a treadmill. Then they send you outside to a kind of prison yard where you sprint around on gravel and clumps of grass. As you can imagine, none of this comes cheap.  But it’s worth it because the shoes are really comfortable, like running on a cloud. They’re also blindingly ugly, which I kind of like, my justification being the more hideous they are the better they must be for me. I’m banking on that because running is my new scheduled high.